Vice-Admiral Hyacinthe Laurent Théophile Aube
Hyacinthe Laurent Théophile Aube, (1826-90) was born at Toulon. He entered the French Naval Academy in 1840, and from the date of his first commission nearly the whole of his life was spent on the sea. Aube had spent most of his career on overseas stations and as a result had developed an outlook focusing on the defense of overseas interests and commerce. Aube served with distinction in the colonies, and was a post captain in charge of some coast defenses during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, and was present at all the engagements on the Loire. In 1879 he was appointed governor of Martinque, and on his return to France in 1881 was made a rear-admiral. His appointment to the ministry of the navy and to the rank of Vice-Admiral followed in 1886.
In the view of Admiral Aube, the foreign squadrons maintained under the French flag were as valueless politically as were the well-paid officers of the diplomatic and consular services. In 1870, Admiral Aube thus described and criticised the French system of foreign squadrons :
"On foreign stations we usually maintain a frigate, having on board the admiral and his numerous staff, and two or three despatch boats. To each smaller vessel a division of the station is assigned. The frigate lies in the harbor of the capital, leaving it only for an annual visit to the ports of secondary importance. Three years pass by in this service, nearly always at anchor, the only voyages undertaken being of quite limited scope. If service on a foreign station is a school, it is a school of indolence and indifference. Neglect of professional duties and studies is veiled by a deceptive appearance of efficiency. After eight months at anchor at Valparaiso or Rio de Janeiro nothing can be more attractive to the eye than the appearance presented by one of our frigates ; the order and the cleanliness could not be exceeded.
"It is not the officers in command of squadrons who are responsible for such a state of things. There are many to whom their enforced inactivity is utterly distasteful. But their movements are fettered by the protests and demands of ministers and consuls accustomed to rely on the presence of our war ships. These men have no appreciation of the necessity for active cruising at sea, in order to train officers and crews. If an admiral absents himself for a time from the centre of the station protests are raised, and complaints are sometimes addressed to the Government at home."
In 1886 the Minister of Marine, himself au ex-Colonial Governor, elaborated a scheme of colonial naval defence which, if successfully put into execution, would place each colony beyond the reach of attack, and make it at the same time a center of disturbance against British trade. Admiral Aube's plan was that each colony should be made the headquarters of one or more Groups of Combat, destined not merely for the defences of that colony, but to harass the trade of any nation with which France might be at war. A glance at the map will show how fatally destructive such a scheme would bo to English commerce.
These groups are to consist of one swift steaming cruiser of about 2,500 tons, capable of steaming twenty knots an hour, and of keeping the sea at a rate of ten knots for a distance of 3,000 miles ; the craft was to be armed with two five-inch breech- loading guns, a couple of torpedo-tubes, and a considerable number of Hotchkiss cannon. She was to be the flag-ship of the little squadron, and is to carry reserve crews, and reserve supplies of food, coal, ammunition, aud provisions for her satellites; these comprise two swift-steaming gun-vessels and eight sea-keeping torpedo-boats. The gun- vessels were to be craft of about 400 tons burthen, and armed with one five-inch breechloader, a proportionate number of machine guns, and a crew of fifty men. They, too. are to possess a high rate of speed, and to be capable of keeping the sea for a considerable time. The torpedo boats were to be of two types, one carrying two Whitebead torpedoes, and no other weapon of offence or defence ; the other, a spar torpedo, and a couple of powerful Hotchkiss. The duty of the former craft is to threaten and destroy an enemy's vessel; the duty of the latter to protect her consort from the attack of small craft, and if necessary, to use her own spar torpedo in self-defence.
The great principle formulated by Admiral Aube regarding torpedo vessels was, invisibility, divisibility and number ; from this it came to pass that small torpedo vessels were built to obtain invisibility, to increase their number, and because they are less costly ; their number gave an idea of their value. The French torpedo-boats seemed to be very faulty. No. 102 upset within sight of Toulon, and six of her crew were drowned. On Thursday, March 21st of 1889, torpedo-boat No. 1 10 left Havre for Cherbourg, and when off Bardeur, went down in a gale of wind, with her crew of fourteen hands. Of the torpedo-boats lately constructed for the French Government, no fewer than fifty had proved so uns eaworthy, that they had to be overhauled at a cost of 600l each. And when the money was expended, it was by no means certain that they would be efficient. So much was admitted by Admiral Krantz, Minister of Marine.
Unfortunately for Admiral Aube's scheme, sea-going torpedo-boats had not as yet proved themselves capable of keeping the sea. The experiences of the French craft operating in the Gulf of Toulon, proved these vessels to be valuable only in smooth weather.
Admiral Aube was probably the most influential exponent of submarine torpedo boats who had yet come forward. This officer when Minister of Marine made a special hobby of this mode of naval warfare, and although he never succeeded in finding anything which really came up to his requirements, one at least of the numerous inventors whom he proteged has succeeded in producing a very fair specimen of submarine torpedo boat, though for a foreign government. In 1888 M. Goubet, such is the inventor's name, submitted a submarine boat driven by electricity derived from accumulators. The vessel, which at the best was only able to go five knots, was not a success ; but Admiral Aube gave the inventor further encouragement.
The manual of the laws of war was adopted at the Oxford session of the Institute of International Law in 1881. There was no difference between the rules of the law of as to bombardment by military forces on land and that by naval forces. The bombardment by a naval force of an open town - t. e., one not defended by fortifications or other means of attack or of resistance for immediate defense .... was inadmissible, except in order to obtain by means of requisitions or of contributions what is necessary for the fleet.
In 1882 Admiral Aube, in an article in the Revue des Deux Mondes on naval warfare of the future ["La guerre maritimes et les ports militaires de la France" Vol. L., pp. 314-346], expressed his opinion that "As wealth is the sinews of war, all that strikes at the wealth of the enemy - a fortiori all that strikes at the source of wealth - becomes not only legitimate but obligatory. It must therefore be expected that the fleets, mistresses of the sea, will turn their powers of attack and destruction, instead of letting the enemy escape from blows, against all the cities of the coast, fortified or not, peaceful or warlike, to burn them, to ruin them, and at least to ransom them without mercy. This was the former practice; it ceased; it will prevail again. Strasbourg and Peronne assure it."
Admiral Aube argued that in the naval war of the future France would most certainly act on the defensive, and that it was therefore the business of the nation to prepare, to organise, and to bring to the highest state of efficiency its weapons of defence. He blamed the Admiralty for spending the millions which had been voted for the navy in the creation of "mastodons" which "had neither speed, nor teeth to bite."
He pointed out that to adopt this course would be the true policy of France, in the event of a war with England. The French Government, on being asked by the British Government whether it accepted responsibility for Admiral Aube's articles, dissociated itself from him. But this repudiation, which was immediately followed by his appointment as Minister of Marine, and by the adoption of a scheme of naval construction in accordance with his views, seemed to British observers to have no serious value.
These views appeared to have found much favor in French and British naval circles. There was no reason to believe that either political or naval opinion in France dissented from these views. His proposals met with the approval of the newspaper press. They were supported and exceeded in various articles spread over a considerable space of time. M. Charmes, whose position and influence in the Foreign Office rendered his utterances noticeable. The only voice raised against them was that of Admiral Bourgois in 1885.
But for some, this was a "relapse into barbarism was like a bolt in a clear sky" because there were very few examples of the bombardments of undefended coast line and these precedents were universally discredited. The only recent example of the bombardment of a commercial town as an act of devastation was the case of Valparaiso, attacked in the year 1868 by the Spanish fleet, but, to quote the measured language of the late Mr. Hall, " the act gave rise to universal indignation at the time, and has never been defended." The article of Admiral Aube gave rise to great discussion, and it may be said that the proposition to subject undefended coast towns to destruction met with little or no favor. The Admiral's suggestion that they should purchase their immunity by ransom met a like fate, but a very lively and by no means unprofitable discussion arose over the question whether undefended ports, towns, and villages might be subject to requisitions and contributions under international law.
Admiral Aube, from the time of his taking office, appointed a Committee to prepare new regulations conducive to economy. The head of the Admiralty was perfectly willing to work with that Committee, and the plan had worked welï. When Admiral Aube reduced the French Naval Establishments, he induced the Committee to grant a considerable sum of money in order to prevent a cruel discharge of a large number of men in the winter.
Admiral Aube wrote in 1885 - "The empire of the sea will belong to that nation of the two which has the most numerous ironclad fleet. Every power of attack and destruction will be employed against all England's littoral towns - fortified or unfortified - -whether purely peace establishments or warlike, to burn them, to destroy them, or to pitilessly ransack them. In any future war the French will come down from the height of that clouded sentimentality which has created the monstrous association of words, 'the rights of war,' or les droits de la guerre, and the attack on every source of riches will be not only legitimate but obligatory on them."
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